I was one of the lucky ones — I had a mother who read to me. The pictures in my books were terrific, but the words were meaningless hieroglyphics best translated by an adult. Learning to decipher them myself could wait.

First grade, and the waiting was over. Mimeographed sheets of words were taped inside the back covers of our reading books. Anyone of a certain age can recall that smell, and the pale purple of the mimeograph type.

Words like "would," "could" and "should" were easily learned. But one word tripped me up repeatedly. When it was my turn to read to the group, I would freeze up, terrified. Just one word eluded me.

That troublesome word? The.

Once I got it, though, the literary world was my oyster. I was off and running — and reading.

We lived across the street from a library, and my summers were spent borrowing the maximum number of books in the mornings, reading them on the front porch swing and trying to return them in the afternoons to swap for another five books. The librarian would not allow it, so I was forced to wait overnight for a fresh batch. I learned to check out longer books. That practice has paid off; in recent years I've read "Les Miserables" and "Moby-Dick," and loved them both.